March 1, 2002


  • Envisat 1

Envisat: the environmental ‘big friendly giant’

1 March 2002 saw the launch of ESA’s Envisat, the most powerful satellite so far designed for environmental studies. However, it could never have happened without the fantastic performance of the launcher which placed it in orbit, Ariane 5.

At that time, the flight of Ariane 5 was, like its exceptional passenger, quite remarkable.

As the only operational launch system capable of carrying such a large and heavy satellite, the 5G version of Ariane was the first to be equipped with an extended 17 m fairing able to house its passenger weighing 8 tonnes and standing 10 m tall, thus setting a new payload mass and height record for Ariane 5.

Flight 145 lifted off into clear skies from the Guiana Space Centre launch pad and, for Ariane 5, was also the first northwards launch from Kourou and the first to place its payload in sun-synchronous orbit.

Twenty-six minutes and 35 seconds later, after an absolutely perfect climb phase, Envisat separated from the launcher and was injected into space to begin its unprecedented mission to monitor the Earth’s environment.

There was another surprise in store with this flight. Ariane 5 placed Envisat in its target orbital position with such precision that the satellite consumed less fuel than expected to reach its final position, leaving it with more propellant for its operational life.


And afterwards?

The Envisat mission came to an end on 8 April 2012, after lasting twice as long as initially anticipated. In 10 years, this giant among satellites completed more than 50,000 orbits and was able to permanently observe land, the atmosphere, the oceans and the polar icecaps. With 10 radar and optical instruments, it gathered more than a thousand terabytes of data, which are essential not only for scientists and climatologists, but also for numerous operational services such as flood and oil spill monitoring and the management of natural or man-made disasters.